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The whiteboard's a whizz!

Forget hours of standing at the board with your back to pupils and move on. Douglas Blane talks to a teacher who conducts classes like a magic show

If primary teacher Bryan McLachlan had to give just one piece of advice to colleagues who had not used an interactive whiteboard before, it would be:

"Start with the simple things."

In his classroom at Netherlee Primary in Glasgow, Mr McLachlan has clearly gone well beyond the simple things. He touches the board with an electronic stylus, sweeps it across and a grid of numbers appears.

With another touch, a cohort of Roman soldiers marches across the whiteness. Another and Neville Chamberlain makes his crackly, chilling announcement over a map of pre-war Europe: "I Consequently, this country is at war with Germany."

Like a wizard materialising objects out of thin air, Mr McLachlan deftly dispenses magic from his fingertips. It wasn't always so.

"I started using the whiteboard just 18 months ago. At that time, I was about average in terms of computer skills and not particularly interested in information and communications technology. By the end of the year, when asked to move from Primary 6 to P7, I agreed only if I could take the whiteboard with me," he says.

"I would hate to try working without it now. It changes the whole way you teach and my pupils are livelier, more responsive, more interested in learning, and better with ICT."

Mr McLachlan, who will be one of next week's SETT show speakers, recommends starting with the simple flip-chart, where the teacher writes on the screen with a light pen. As familiarity and confidence grow, more sophisticated modes can be tried and mastered, such as prepared presentations using images and sounds from the computer or the Internet and sessions in which children interact with programs or websites. In time, your use of the board will evolve and the nature of the teaching will change, says Mr McLachlan.

"I hardly ever stand at the front now and write on the board.

"Instead, I am able to pull up presentations which I've prepared over the past year-and-a-half and saved on the computer. This folder, for instance, contains all the topics the class has worked on: the Second World War, the Holocaust, the environment, York."

Methods of working with an interactive whiteboard vary with the subject taught. "In maths or language, you might have the kids coming up to the board all the time. With a topic, where you're presenting new information, you tend to deliver it through prepared presentations.

"I use the whiteboard now in every area of the curriculum, sometimes four or five times a day."

While at first it is hard to avoid rummaging for too long in the vast array of web resources, this is not necessarily wasted time, says Mr McLachlan:

"The more you do it, the quicker you become, so it is an investment. And don't forget, once you've prepared a presentation it's there on the computer and you can use it next year and the year after."

The improved quality of lessons with an interactive whiteboard heightens the children's motivation to learn. "You can't get the depth and visual quality into your lessons without it. I could stand here all day talking about the war and writing things up in my scrawly handwriting. But if I can pull up maps, recordings, websites, pictures, then the kids can hear it, see it and experience it for themselves."

The ability to interact with the board, the teacher and the rest of the class is key. "As soon as I ask for a volunteer to come out and drag the answer to the right place or write it on the board, everyone wants to do it. It's been like this for 18 months with the same children and it hasn't gone away. So it's not just the novelty that appeals to them."

Many teachers, says Mr McLachlan, are at first a bit scared of using interactive whiteboards - he was not initially enthusiastic himself - because they worry about things going wrong and making them look foolish in front of the children: "But the kids aren't scared of the technology, and there's no need for the teachers to be," he says.

"I would love to help everyone to see that it's worth the investment in time to become confident in using an interactive whiteboard. In ICT, great ideas come and go, but I'm convinced this is one piece of technology that's here to stay. I think it's the future of teaching and I feel fortunate to have been in at the start."


Bryan McLachlan will demonstrate Effective Use of Interactive Whiteboards on Thursday at 12.45pm

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